BEIJING: Innovation is likely to be a major theme not only for Singapore’s economic transformation, but also for the country’s cooperation with China and the broader region, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday (Nov 26).
Speaking to Singapore media at the end of a five-day visit to Suzhou and Beijing, Mr Heng said the promotion of innovation is something Chinese leaders at the provincial and central government level have given a lot of thought to, and was a topic that came across “very strongly” at all meetings.
During the trip, Mr Heng met with his Chinese counterpart Xiao Jie, as well as Jiangsu governor Wu Zhenglong.
For instance, Mr Heng noted innovation is key as the Singapore-China Suzhou Industrial Park moves forward.
“The next level of development has to do with innovation and how we can encourage companies to be more innovative, whether it is by a new business model or to invest more in R&D,” said Mr Heng.
This is also why the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) research institute has received strong support.
Last Thursday, Mr Heng launched NUS Enterprise’s BLOCK71 development, which functions as a hub for start-ups in the Suzhou Industrial Park.
“If we can build on that, companies in Singapore can understand the Chinese markets better, some of the R&D work we are doing in the universities and research institutes can now progress to that level,” he noted.
In the private sector, Mr Heng also pointed out that the role of corporations in helping to “seed” some of these innovation activities has also been “growing very nicely”.
“It’s a new form of partnership between big corporations and startups, so that they can each use their strength to create a stronger partnership,” he said.
ENCOURAGING MORE YOUNG SINGAPOREANS TO VENTURE OUT
In Beijing, Mr Heng also kicked off the first overseas Global Innovation Alliance initiative. The programme aims to help Singapore enterprises link up with technology companies and start-ups in China.
When asked about the challenges in getting more companies to venture out, Mr Heng noted that Singapore’s regionalisation efforts began many years ago and while the initial period was difficult, things have “taken off quite nicely”.
“I think the reluctance to go abroad is much less than it was years ago when I was in the Ministry of Trade and Industry,” said Mr Heng.
“But still it is an ongoing effort. We need to encourage more young people to do so because the more they understand what is happening around our region, the more prepared they will be to take on important roles ahead.”
Mr Heng also stressed that with the country’s emphasis on bilingual education and understanding of a broad range of areas, Singaporeans are well placed to do this.
With next year designated as the ASEAN-China year of innovation, Mr Heng said he hoped Singapore could make a contribution.
This coincides with the country's ongoing role as country coordinator for ASEAN-China ties and its chairmanship of the regional bloc, which begins next year.
Mr Heng said he hopes Singapore will be able to bring ASEAN and China closer together to cooperate on a wide range of areas - both on the broader security and economic front.
“In the economic area there are many changes that are happening in the Chinese economy and many changes are also happening in the ASEAN economy,” said Mr Heng.
“If we can have a productive discussion on those areas, then I think we can deepen cooperation across many different domains.”
Mr Heng said in particular, Singapore hopes to make progress in negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement.
“That has been going on for a number of years but I hope that we can give it greater momentum,” he stressed.
Mr Heng said his visit builds on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s earlier visit to China in September, just before the 19th China Communist Party Congress.
He noted that following the congress, Chinese leaders are now focused on what they have to do next and the meetings were useful to better understand their priorities, as well as how Singapore and China can work more closely together.